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Man convicted in 2009 shooting of Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy

TAMPA — A jury took a little more than an hour Friday evening to convict Miguel Serrano of trying to kill a Hillsborough sheriff's deputy in 2009.

The six-member jury returned guilty verdicts on all nine counts against Serrano, including attempted second-degree murder of a law enforcement officer and attempted felony murder, burglary of a dwelling and robbery.

Serrano showed no emotion as a translator told him the verdict in Spanish. Two of his family members wept silently as sheriff's deputies handcuffed Serrano and led him out of the courtroom.

Circuit Judge Emmett Battles scheduled sentencing for Jan. 21. Serrano faces a possible life sentence.

Prosecutors said Serrano shot Deputy Miguel Galarza in the neck while struggling over the deputy's gun on Oct. 13, 2009.

Galarza had been called to investigate a 911 hangup call at a Town 'N Country apartment. When he arrived, Serrano opened the apartment door and told the deputy that everything was fine before shutting it again.

Moments later, when Galarza re-entered the apartment, a scuffle ensued and ended with the deputy being shot in the neck.

Earlier Friday, jurors listened to a recording of sheriff's radio traffic from the day Galarza was shot.

They heard the deputy call for backup after the door was shut. And later they heard Galarza's panicked cry for help as he announced he had been shot.

Serrano, 29, ran away after the shooting and was found hiding in a car.

The jury also heard testimony from Hillsborough sheriff's Detective Tom Pettis, who questioned Serrano after the shooting.

Prosecutors played a tape of Pettis' interview in which Serrano speaks in broken English. He first claims that someone else shot the deputy, and later says the shooting was accident.

In closing statements, Assistant State Attorney Michelle Doherty told jurors that the evidence proved Serrano intended to kill the deputy.

"There can be no doubt that Deputy Miguel Galarza was fighting for his life on Oct. 13, 2009," Doherty said. "He committed an act that would have killed Miguel Galarza but failed to do so. A different angle, and we would be here for a different crime."

Serrano's defense team called no witnesses in the case and argued that Serrano did not shoot the deputy.

They pointed to Serrano's statements during questioning in which he repeatedly stated in broken English that he did not fire the gun.

They also noted there was no trace of gunshot residue on Serrano's hands when he was arrested shortly after the shooting took place. Prosecutors countered by pointing to Pettis' testimony that residue could have been washed or rubbed off.

The defense also tried to poke holes in the prosecution's case by saying there was no evidence that Serrano was involved in a robbery that prompted the 911 call, citing inconsistencies in the victim's identification of Serrano. He was a victim of mistaken identity, his attorneys said. The defense also noted the absence of Serrano's DNA on the deputy's weapon.

In the end, the jury didn't buy it.

Galarza sat with his wife in the back of the courtroom as the verdict was read. Afterward, he embraced prosecutors Michelle Doherty and Jennifer Gabbard and thanked them.

"I'm just glad that it's done and over with," Galarza said. "They did a great job, the state attorneys and the detectives at the Sheriff's Office. They were all there for me."

He plans to continue working and will try to put the incident behind him.

"I'm a little more cautious now," Galarza said. "Not that I wasn't before, but now there is a memory to relate to it."

Dan Sullivan can be reached at dsullivan@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3321.

Man convicted in 2009 shooting of Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy 01/07/11 [Last modified: Friday, January 7, 2011 10:49pm]
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